September 19 – A Place of Peace and Justice for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People
Paul Johnson, Pastor of United Church of Christ Congregational, Ames
When I was a child, I didn’t know any gay or lesbian people. In our small town/rural community it was assumed that everyone was heterosexual. I recognize now that at least three of my public school teachers were gay, but they were very careful and closeted.
The assumption that everyone was heterosexual, the lack of awareness in society, and the negative judgments of church and community made it difficult for me to even consider the possibility that I might not be straight. I was in my thirties (I am now 62) before I accepted my sexuality as a gay man.
Attitudes toward people of various sexual orientations have changed dramatically in the past couple of decades. But conflict and controversy about sexual orientation has also increased.
I am privileged to serve as a Christian minister in a congregation that accepts and affirms me as an openly gay man. The April 3 decision of the Iowa Supreme Court made legal, civil marriage possible for my partner, David and me. We were married at the church I serve, the United Church of Christ-Congregational, in Ames, on May 31, 2009.
Many folks long for a society like that of my youth, where homosexuality was seldom talked about and rarely acknowledged. Those days when gay people were mostly silent and hidden seemed more peaceful to most folks. However it was not a peaceful time for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Such folks often lived their lives with great struggle, hurt and inner turmoil.
A sustainable, peaceful future for our society includes acknowledging the existence of people with different sexual orientations and the affirmation of basic civil rights, including the right of civil marriage, for all people.
That doesn’t mean churches have to accept and welcome gay and lesbian people. It doesn’t mean that churches have to bless marriages like mine. I defend the right of churches to disagree. Some churches do not accept and support homosexual people. The guarantee of religious liberty supports their right to hold such a position. At the same time, there are many churches that do not see homosexuality as sinful and fully support their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members. Their point of view is also protected by our constitution.
In a pluralistic society, which values separation of church and state, basic civil rights should not be withheld from any group even if they are in conflict with the doctrine and principles of a religious majority.
The conversation will continue. It will not always be peaceful. However, I believe the attitudes of young people are much more accepting of diverse sexual identity than previous generations. If we succeed in creating a culture of peace and a sustainable future, such a society will include and affirm all people.